With the Terps and head coach Randy Edsall set to kick off the 2015 season Sept. 5, here are five pressing questions/needs/concerns/beefs for Maryland fans to monitor as the Terps tangle with the Richmond Spiders:
1. Here We Go Again. Well, Maybe Not. Well, At Least For Now.
The more things change, the more they remain the same.
Maryland has fought for years to try and build more quality and depth on the O-line, and it appeared they were finally inching closer to a somewhat Big Ten-like line, at least somewhat, thanks to the infusion of elites, like four-star Derwin Gray at left tackle and five-star tackle Damian Prince at right tackle.
But the Terps have been stung, for at least now as they begin the 2015 season, by their recurring curse up front in the offensive trenches. Fortunately the Sept. 5 opponent is just FCS Richmond, which is in a bit of a rebuilding modr. But, yet again, Maryland will field an all-important left side starting line of all former walk-ons, with both Gray and Prince on the injury shelf, and yet another front-line shuffle underway. Man, how many years has this happened?
With Gray (shoulder surgery in the spring) not set to begin contact until Sept. 10 (and he's a "rep guy" for sure) down at left tackle, and Prince still recovering from concussion symptoms from an injury suffered late in August camp, the Terps have seen the front five thrown asunder again. Starting left guard Ryan Doyle has had to kick out to the right side at tackle in Prince's wake, and we know Doyle struggled playing outside last season, thus his move inside in the spring. Inserted now at left guard is newly-minted sophomore Mike Minter, who is a feel good story, but again a walk-on who has never played a significant role since his days at Severna Park High School. Meanwhile, his bud to the left, at tackle, Dunn, had an ailing back the Terps still need to look out for.
Adding more ripples, senior yeoman center Evan Mulrooney had a late run to knock off camp starter Brendan Moore in the middle, though Moore is the better athlete and is the future at the spot. He's just not as far along in the playbook with all the calls and chemistry yet.
On the right side, the only guy left standing throughout, senior right guard Andrew Zeller, is the one constant, maintaining his spot from camp start to end.
The other bad news, the Terps still haven't developed the kind of depth where they have top guys to insert in such situations (see JaJuan Dulaney, who has yet to find his way), to make some of these transitions smoother.
But the good news is they have a few weeks to get guys healthy and things back in order up front. That said, they may have to dip into the true freshman pool this fall if there are injuries, and that's never a good thing for rookies on the O-line. The other good news is Gray and Prince, once back out there (and very much Moore to an extent, too), represent the future, and it’s a promising one for the Terps. And then there's walk-on success stories (Gonella, Pinegar, etc.), but that's not how you win in the Big Ten, where the Terps find themselves tangling these days.
2. Something To Prove. Many Times Over.
There are countless Terps' juniors and seniors, droves of them, that need to finally come out of the shadows and emerge as significant contributors for the Terps to have the kind of season they hope for this fall.
From some of the forgotten men, junior quarterback and clipboard holder Perry Hills, who now finds himself pulling a rabbit from the hat as starter, to junior slot D'Andre Lane, who had been seen so little at College Park the last few years you oft wondered if the mighty-mite out of Catonsville had joined the Smurfs, the list is long of guys finally re-emerging.
Junior receivers Amba Etta-Tawo and Malcolm Culmer must put past hands inconsistencies behind and produce for the offense to be effectiv.; Senior Brandon Ross must finally put too many hammy injuries, East-West dancing and lack of vision behind and be the every-down back so long needed, now that he had a strong camp and is the starter. His backup, junior Wes Brown, ditto.
The list goes on and on, the good news being the Terps have plenty of hungry guys trying to prove themselves -- and lock down starting jobs -- once and for all with their careers in the later stages.
3. Secret Weapons?
There's plenty of newness at College Park this fall, from new schemes; coaches; transfers; heck, even yummy DuClaw's craft beer at concessions stands.
But Maryland did its best work in the offseason "transitions" wire under Randy Edsall, adding some key pieces at some critical places -- but maybe none as important as tight end.
The addition of fifth-year quarterback Daxx Garman was a good "splash" late, given all the circumstances and not much talent left out there this summer. But Garman hasn't found his grove yet, and so far has been a disappointment, at least from the outside looking in.
But talk about fortuitous, UConn fifth-year outside linebacker Jefferson Ashiru leaves Storrs, Conn., for College Park late this summer, and suddenly now finds himself the starter with junior starter Abner Logan (torn knee) done for the year.
But maybe even better (when all is said and done), former UNC signee Avery Edwards, rejected by the Tar Heels at admission because of a sophomoric indiscretion off the field, for which he has since atoned, may give the Terps their best new weapon of all. It's Maryland's "Christmas in July," gift-wrapped neatly very late in the process. Edwards may soon be the starter, givinig Maryland a whole new look/dimension at the position, especially with former starter Andrew Isaacs (knee) still on the mend and losing a step. Edwards is a big target at 6-4-plus, with excellent speed; soft hands; body control and football IQ. He will open up the middle (and a spot at UMD) that's been lacking for some time.
4. Change Is In Order?
The Terps have a few guys that fans will watch with intrigue in their new spots this fall.
While "Bandit" 'backer Yannick Ngakoue's move is more of a subtle one, the Teprs junior moving up to the line to play with his hand in the dirt for the first time since high school, all in the Terps' new 4-3 defensive scheme -- and the Sean-Davis-to-corner move is pretty ancient by now -- fans will soon get to see (in some cases) some other intriguing ones that could have a nice little impact this fall.
Former Elite 11 and Gilman (Baltimore, Md.) standout quarterback Shane Cockerille, now at fullback, adds a lot of possible intrigue to the Terps oft-forgotten position.
While fellow Gilman alum Kenny Goins, the junior starter, is still the top dog and best lead-blocker at the spot, there are many possibilities with the rugged athlete Cockerille swinging out of the backfield -- or plain diversion/misdirection -- given he can still sling it some. Flaring out in the flat to catch the ball, pitching hand-offs back to the quarterback, or on options, there could be some imaginative stuff if the Terps choose to so deploy.
The position change for the redshirt freshman was at first a letdown, but Cockerille is one Terp that certainly made lemonade out of lemons this summer -- and all for a guy who could have gone either way, what with his Terrapin future so uncertain and his confidence bounced around.
The other player to watch, but longer term as he is still catching on in every way, is former four-star quarterback/athlete Will Ulmer, now at slot. Ulmer has the chance to be an explosive threat after-the-catch, but still must learn all the nuances/intricacies of the position (like catching, route running, blocking, overall presence, etc.) before he can be a significant contributor.
5. Us Against The World?
Definitely the mantra this fall, starting with head coach Randy Edsall on down.
Edsall cut back media accessl; we got only one scrimmage (and that was vanilla/tapioca at best); and shoot, he even made his (media) favorite "Fireside Chat," chummy convos at Gossett just a phoner. Boo-bad, as this is where he opened up the most, and heck, that even took four years. And just as we were getting to the point hot chocolate and ginger snaps were sure to be forthcoming this year, all back in the inner-confines of the staff meeting room, where reporters never feared tread before.
With contract extension in hand, but still having his critics out there chirping, Edsall added two former UConn assistants (see loyalty factor) this summer, and further hunkered down in his bunker. He has dug his heel in the dirt, out to prove the naysayers wrong.
Wrong about him, wrong about some of his yeoman upperclassmen like Perry Hills, wrong about perceived depth holes after more heavy offseason attrition this summer.
As they say, the proof will be in the pudding this fall.
Ah, but let the games begin in 2015, as the Terps' second season in the Big Ten is upon us.
And the story-lines will be many….